LEYZER VILENKIN (1894-1985)
He was a linguist, born in the town of Haradok, Byelorussia. From 1912 he was working in a Kharkov chemical factory “Lev,” and from there he moved to Petrograd in 1917, where he was hired to work for a community institution while studying in the evenings. With philological inclinations since his youth, over the course of a decade and a half he studied pedagogy, literature, and linguistics at various senior high schools. Over the years 1921-1925, he studied at the pedagogical faculty of Leningrad State University, while at the same time (1923-1925) working as a teacher at a children’s home and later (1925-1927) at a public school. He was a research student, 1926-1929, at the Leningrad Institute of the Literatures and Languages of the Orient; he was an instructor, 1929-1931, at the Byelorussian Institute for Jewish Culture in Minsk; he was a scholarly contributor, 1932-1933, at the Moscow Institute for language research; he worked, 1932-1935, for the Moscow Institute for Criticism and Bibliography; and, 1935-1937, he was librarian at the Lenin Library in Moscow. With his great love for the Yiddish language, over the course of many years, Vilenkin held as his greatest interest to compile an academic Yiddish dictionary and a Yiddish language atlas. He amassed an immense file of linguistic sources for Yiddish and published articles in Kharkover shtern (Kharkov star) and Proletarishe fon (Proletarian banner) (May 1934) on language issues, principally Yiddish lexicography, dialectology, and terminology. In 1929 he published a pamphlet for a project entitled Der yidisher akademisher verterbukh un der yidisher shprakhatalas (The academic Yiddish dictionary and Yiddish language atlas), put out by the Yiddish language section of the Byelorussian Academy of Sciences (Minsk, 1929), 36 pp., and in 1931 he published the first part of his planned life’s work, Yidisher shprakhatlas fun sovetnfarband, afn frunt fun di dialektologishe materyaln, vos zaynen tsunoyfgezamlt gevorn durkh der shprakh-komisye fun yidishn sektor fun der vaysrusisher visnshaft-akademye unter m. veyngers onfirung: fonetik (The Yiddish language atlas of the Soviet Union, based on dialectological materials which have been assembled by the language commission of the Yiddish section of the Byelorussian Academy of Sciences under the direction of M. Veynger: phonetics) (Minsk, 1931). For two full years (1929-1930), as he wrote in his introduction, Vilenkin himself prepared the 10,000 cards from 1,200 correspondents from 700 cities and towns that had been sent to Veynger, and he arranged them on seventy-five dialect maps. In the 1960s he lived in Moscow and participated in the language conference that took place at the editorial board of Sovetish heymland (Soviet homeland) in 1966. In 1967, he published in Sovetish heymland (issue no. 5): “Folks-yidish” (Folk Yiddish). Even today his language atlas of the U.S.S.R. remains a unique item in Yiddish linguistic research literature. Prepared materials for subsequent volumes of the language atlas, as well as the materials for an academic dictionary, disappeared during WWII. He was arrested in 1948 and spent six years in a Soviet camp. After one unsuccessful effort to emigrate to Israel, he succeeded in doing so in the early 1970s, and there he spent the remaining years of his life. He published Gerangl (Struggle) in Jerusalem from 1973, 399 pp.
Source: Dr. M. Vaynraykh (Max Weinreich), in Yivo-bleter (Vilna) 4.2 (1932), pp. 168-79.
Berl Kagan, comp., Leksikon fun yidish-shraybers (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers) (New York, 1986), col. 246; additional information from: Chaim Beider, Leksikon fun yidishe shrayber in ratn-farband (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers in the Soviet Union), ed. Boris Sandler and Gennady Estraikh (New York: Congress for Jewish Culture, Inc., 2011), pp. 133-34.